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IN MEMORIAM | Organist, Choral Conductor Catherine Mary Palmer Dies At Age 95

By Anya Wassenberg on September 13, 2023

Yorkminster Baptist Church, interior (Photo courtesy of the Yorkminster Baptist Church)
Yorkminster Baptist Church, interior (Photo courtesy of the Yorkminster Baptist Church)

Catherine Mary Palmer, a talented Toronto organist and choral conductor, passed away peacefully at the age of 95 on the morning of September 13. In a career that spanned several decades, Catherine left her mark on the city’s musical community.

She is perhaps remembered by most as the Director of Music at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto, a position she held from 1970 until her retirement in 1996. Her work during those years is immortalized in two releases, including a recording of Bach vocal works titled Bless Ye The Lord (Marquis Classics, 2010), where she directs the Yorkminister Park Baptist Church Choir and Ronald S. Jordan (organ). She likewise directs the Yorkminster choir and Ronald Jordan on the 1996 recording The Joy Of God, a compilation of hymns.

Catherine M. Palmer

Catherine was born to British parents in the United States. Her father was a priest in the Church of England. She first studied music at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and graduated with a LIAM diploma in piano, and a GRSM designation as a musical educator.

After several years of teaching she came to Canada, and not long after, took up the position of organist at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto. Catherine became a protégé of Healy Willan, a noted English-Canadian organist and composer.

  • She founded the Holy Trinity Singers;
  • Largely self-taught as an organist, she became the first woman in Canada to obtain the Fellow of the Royal College of Organists diploma;
  • She also won the Turpin prize from the Royal College of Organists;
  • Catherine was a frequent performer in Toronto, including on the CBC;
  • She was appointed to the faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music;
  • She served as Chairman of the Examination Committee for the Royal Canadian College of Organists for an eight-year period.

Catherine also founded the Palmer Singers, a choral group that performed in Toronto and the region for about eight years, and helped to develop many young organists as an educator.

Rest in peace.


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